Santa Clarita resident Audry Gocha placed a blue flower pinwheel on a Valencia business center lawn Saturday morning to represent that she has Alzheimer’s.
Her pinwheel joined several dozen more — some colored purple to signify a person who died of the neurodegenerative disease, and others orange to express support for Alzheimer’s Awareness Month — as part of the 2020 Santa Clarita Valley Walk to End Alzheimer’s.
The event, modified this year due to the pandemic, featured an online presentation, self-walks in neighborhoods and a drive-by event held at Mellady Direct Marketing, where participants could add their flower pinwheels and show their support.
“In my opinion, a lot of people just think, ‘Oh, you’ve just lost your memory.’ But there’s so much more; it’s a big deal,” said Gocha, who was diagnosed three years ago. “So, education is important.”
Accompanied by her daughter Charmaine and friend Brian Laughlin, Gocha said she would like for more people, whether directly affected by the disease or not, to feel less uncomfortable about discussing Alzheimer’s.
“Maybe it’s not really taboo but it’s just an uncomfortable subject for some,” said Laughlin, whose great-grandmother also had Alzheimer’s. “If someone says, ‘I have cancer,’ you want to change the subject but if it’s a common conversation then it can move on.”
Besides raising awareness, the goal is to raise money to help fund research and other initiatives aimed at finding a cure, according to Stephanie Wallace, who is part of the local committee that coordinates the annual walk events.
“The money that we’re raising here is going to research initiatives both internationally and locally,” she said. “The Alzheimer’s Association’s mission is two-pronged: the biggest is to find a cure and then, in the meantime, help support families who have been affected by this horrible disease. So, that includes support groups and education to help break the stigma that Alzheimer’s is just an old person disease and that there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Typically, an estimated 800 people partake in the local walk every year and it raises about $130,000, according to Wallace. As of Saturday morning, $57,000 had been raised and organizers expected to gather about $65,000.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and, eventually, the ability to carry out the simplest tasks, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Although most people with the disease are 65 and older, approximately 200,000 Americans under the age of 65 have younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease. There is currently no cure but “there is a worldwide effort underway to find better ways to treat the disease, delay its onset, and prevent it from developing,” according to the Alzheimer’s Association website.
To learn more and to donate, visit alz.org.